Supply Chain Syllabi Suck – But Should You Be Designing One?

It’s an interesting question, and one I have to ask after coming across Adrian Gonzalez’ recent post over on Logistics Viewpoints on A Supply Chain Course Designed by You. While I agree that the average life of a supply chain text is two to three years where case studies are concerned (but not where core principles are concerned as some of the classics by Robert Rudzki and Dick Locke are still holding up eight and seventeen years later), I don’t necessarily agree that syllabi go out of date that fast, or that you are the best person to be designing one.

I also agree that trends do develop every day, that most traditional syllabi are about two decades out of date, and that an instructor should update the syllabus as required before every course delivery, but I’m not sure it should be based solely on student requests. While an instructor should attempt to address as many student questions as possible, they should be restricted to the subject matter of the course. More specifically, if the course is on sourcing and procurement technology, the instructor should not go off on a tangent on proper multi-tier supply network design, which should be a different course.

However, the real reasons that an instructor should not design an entirely student driven course are the following:

  1. Every student will likely have a different problem that he or she believes he or she needs addressed that is
  2. based on a different understanding of what proper supply management for (what) a proper supply chain (is) and
  3. that problem is not necessarily the root problem or representative of the core theory, and practical solutions, that need to be addressed.

If the student knew what she needed to learn, she would not be a student, she would, at the very least, be a mentor, if not a teacher herself. For those of you with a martial arts background, you would not be deshi, you would be yudansha or sensei yourselves. Because you have not gone before, you don’t know the way you need to go. That’s why you need a teacher, a guide, to show you the way and teach you the basics you need to know in a cohesive, relevant framework appropriate to the course. A well-designed course by an instructor who is trained in the theory and experienced in the practice will weave together the foundations with relevant examples in such a way that the student will learn to identify what the root problems are, what solutions might work, and what questions should be raised, and addressed by the instructor — who will have no problems weaving the answers in, on the fly, to the lectures at hand.

In other words, I don’t think the methodology proposed by Adrian is necessarily the right process for designing a course, but I do think it’s a great process for tweaking a course, and, more so, for determining what course(s) a student should be taking. In other words, an organization or institution offering Supply Management and Supply Chain training should, before allowing students to enrol in a course,

  • request that the students fill out a questionaire that outlines their key questions and topics of interest a month or so in advance,
  • analyze the responses and determine potential best fits between the students and the courses being considered, and
  • create pre-course discussion groups, facilitated by the likely instructor, a few weeks in advance and invite the students to participate in the group to gather consensus on key topics, issues, and questions that should be addressed — and figure out if the course is really for them.

Then the provider can let students register, knowing that there will be good fits, and the instructor can tweak the course to be as relevant as possible to the needs and interest of the students, using the most relevant case studies and focussing on the secondary topics of common interest once the core material has been covered.

Of course this is just the doctor‘s opinion (and his only real qualification for this argument is that he has been an Assistant Professor in Academia and an Industry Trainer), and it will be interesting to see the results if 30 (thirty) practitioners take Mr. Gonzalez up on his offer.

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